Dozens of tech companies sign ‘Tech for Good Call’ following French initiative

A couple of years ago, French President Emmanuel Macron initiated the Tech for Good Summit by inviting 50 tech CEOs to discuss the challenges in the tech industry and make some announcements.

Usually, tech CEOs meet ahead of Viva Technology, a tech event in Paris. This year, Viva Technology had to be canceled, which means that tech CEOs couldn’t get together, take a group photo and say that they want to make the world a better place.

In the meantime, dozens of tech CEOs have chosen to sign a common pledge. Despite the positive impact of some technological breakthroughs, they collectively recognize that everything is not perfect with the tech industry.

“Recognizing that such progress may be hindered by negative externalities, including unfair competition such as abuse of dominant or systemic position, and fragmentation of the internet; that, without appropriate safeguards, technology can also be used to threaten fundamental freedoms and human rights or weaken democracy; that, unless we implement appropriate measures to combat it, some individuals and organizations inevitably use it for criminal purposes, including in the context of conflicts,” the pledge says.

Among other things, companies that sign the pledge agree to cooperate when it comes to fighting toxic content, such as child sexual abuse material and terrorist content. They promise to “responsibly address hate speech, disinformation and opinion manipulation.”

Interestingly, they also agree that they should “contribute fairly to the taxes in countries where [they] operate.” This has been an ongoing issue between the French government and the U.S. government. The OECD and the European Union have also discussed implementing a tax on tech giants so that they report to tax authorities in each country where they operate.

Other commitments mention privacy, social inclusiveness, diversity and equity, fighting all sorts of discriminations and more. As the name suggests, the pledge revolves around using technology for good things.

Now let’s talk about who signed the pledge. There are some well-known names, such as Sundar Pichai from Alphabet (Google), Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, Brad Smith from Microsoft, Evan Spiegel from Snap and Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter and Square. Other companies include Cisco, Deliveroo, Doctolib, IBM, OpenClassrooms, Uber, etc.

Some nonprofit organizations also signed the pledge, such as the Mozilla Foundation, Simplon, Tech for Good France, etc.

But it’s more interesting to see who’s not on the list. Amazon and Apple have chosen not to sign the pledge. There have been discussions with Apple but the company eventually chose not to participate.

“Amazon didn’t want to sign it and I invite you to ask them directly,” a source close to the French president said. The French government is clearly finger-pointing in Amazon’s case.

This is an odd move as it’s a non-binding pledge. You can say that you want to “contribute fairly to taxes” and then argue that you’re paying everything that you owe — tax optimization is not tax evasion, after all. Worse, you can say that you’re building products with “privacy by design” in mind while you’re actually building entire companies based on personalized ads and micro-targeting.

In other words, the Tech for Good summit was created for photo opportunities (like this photo from 2018 below). Tech CEOs want to be treated like heads of state, while Macron wants to position himself as a tech-savvy president. It’s a win-win for them, and a waste of time for everyone else.

Some nonprofit organizations and governance groups are actually working hard to build digital commons. But big tech companies are using the same lexicon with these greenwashing-style campaigns.

In 2018, hundreds of organizations signed the Paris Call. In 2019, the biggest social media companies signed the Christchurch Call. And now, we have the Tech for Good Call. Those calls can’t replace proper regulation.

Image Credits: Charles Platiau / AFP / Getty Images

Macron defends the European way of tech regulation

French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech at VivaTech in Paris, alternating between French and English. He defended a third way to regulate tech companies, which is different from the U.S. and from China.

Macron thinks Europe should have a say when it comes to regulation — and it shouldn’t be just about privacy. Of course, he defended GDPR and online privacy, but he also talked about taxes, cyberbullying, the protection of independent workers and more.

What is at stake is how we build a European model reconciling innovation and common good Emmanuel Macron

Yesterday, Macron hosted 50 tech CEOs to talk about leveraging tech for the common good, especially when it comes to education, labor and diversity. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talked about the event before Macron took the stage.

Macron first started with a few numbers on the French tech ecosystem. “I want to talk to the entire French ecosystem here today. What we’re all doing is essential for our country and the world,” he said.

Based on his numbers, startups raised $2.9 billion in France last year (€2.5 billion). That’s three times as much as in 2015. He then listed some of the recent changes, from corporate taxes to France’s open data policy and the French Tech Visa.

He didn’t have much to say about the tech industry in particular. You could feel that he has a lot on his plate right now and that tech is more or less an afterthought.

“France is changing like crazy. And that's why we can say that France is back,” he said in English to conclude the first part of his speech.

“My second message is for Africa because you decided to invite Africa to VivaTech this year,” he said.

Macron then announced that France is going to invest some public money in the most promising African startups. “For the past six months, the French Development Agency has worked hard on this,” he said. “And the French Development Agency is going to announce in the coming weeks a new specific program of €65 million [$76 million] in order to invest small amounts, €30,000 to €50,000 per startup.”

Michel Euler / AFP / Getty Images

A message to big tech companies

Finally, Macron talked about the Tech for Good Summit and tech regulation in general. “We’re currently experiencing a revolution. I truly believe in that revolution and our country believes in it too,” he said. “But you can’t deny that some people in our country and in the world fear change.”

“Tech companies haven’t always been exemplary. Some haven’t complied with taxation laws and it has fostered mistrust — even from French entrepreneurs.”

Macron then defended France’s project to create a European tax on big tech companies. If the French Government can convince other European Governments, big tech companies would be taxed on local revenue in each European country. It could be a way to avoid tax optimization schemes. Smaller European countries with a lower corporate tax rate don’t seem convinced yet.

“I'm a big tech optimist and this country does believe in innovation,” he said. “But it's not enough — making money, creating jobs and making shareholders happy is great. Especially creating jobs as far as I'm concerned.”

Macron also criticized U.S. regulation on tech companies, saying that the U.S. Government is not doing enough when it comes to online harassment, taxes, labor and more.

He then criticized the Chinese model, saying that the Chinese Government is not doing enough when it comes to privacy, human rights and gender equality.

“What is at stake is how we build a European model reconciling innovation and common good,” he said. “We have to work together to build this common framework.”

After yesterday’s commitments, the French Government is going to track tech companies every six months to see if they actually implement what they promised when it comes to tech for good.

He also finished by saying that the Tech for Good Summit should become an annual initiative. Tech CEOs will be invited once again to the Élysée next year ahead of VivaTech.

50 tech CEOs come to Paris to talk about tech for good

Ahead of VivaTech, 50 tech CEOs came to Paris to have lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron. Then, they all worked together on “tech for good”. The event was all about leveraging tech around three topics — education, labor and diversity.

At the end of the day, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe invited everyone for a speech in Matignon. It wasn’t a groundbreaking speech as Macron is also speaking at VivaTech tomorrow morning. “We’re trying to pivot France,” Philippe said.

With great power comes great responsibility Édouard Philippe

Maurice Lévy, the former CEO of Publicis, one of the two companies behind VivaTech with Les Échos, first introduced the event, as well as Eric Hazan from McKinsey. McKinsey worked on the data that was used to start those discussions. So let’s see what they talked about.

“As McKinsey showed, there’s no question that technology overall is a net creator of job and GDP. It’s a positive force,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said. “At the same time, AI and automation, while driving the economy and productivity, […] will lead to large groups being disadvantaged.”

He then listed a few important points to make sure that nobody is going to be left behind, such as coaching and mentorship programs.

“This is not just the government’s job but it is also the job of private companies,” Khosrowshahi added.

He wanted to remain hopeful and it felt a bit like a lobbying effort. “It’s easy to see the lost of jobs because of automation. But it’s much more difficult to dream about the possibilities of the future,” he said. In other words, don’t worry about the on-demand economy, don’t worry about self-driving cars.

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty was in charge of the discussions around education. “We also had a lot of engineers and pragmatic people there. And we ended up with five recommendations,” she said.

It sounds like these recommendations would be really favorable for IBM and other tech companies. So here are these recommendations:

  • Focus and segment this problem. Focus on the quarter of the population the most at risk.
  • Align the skills that businesses need with the education system (hard skills and soft skills).
  • There should be an open partnership with governments to reposition vocational education, learn by doing, foster internships, apprenticeships, simulations and redirect tax to incentivize.
  • Work with teachers to pilot, get hard evidence and then scale.
  • Retraining employees is the responsibility of all employers.

Finally, SAP CEO Bill McDermott talked about diversity. “As we looked at the facts, there are 33 percent more revenue, more profit for companies that got the memo on companies more inclusive and more diverse,” he said.

Culture, gender and geography were the main themes. But they also talked about differently able people. SAP will make an announcement around autism in France.

“Dara, Ginni and Bill, thank you for your introduction, that was brilliant, in English and concise,” French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said.

He then listed three ideas that sum up his thinking about the tech industry.

“I truly believe in freedom, in that fundamental ability that you need to be able to take good decisions and bad decisions,” he said. The second idea is the consequence of that first one.

“With great power comes great responsibility. I think a modern philosopher called Peter Parker said that for the first time. And I really think it’s true.”

“While you don’t have to regulate on everything, when something isn’t regulated, it’s possible that it gets out of your control. And when it comes to the digital revolution and the data revolution, that freedom needs some boundaries. You know that Europe worked on some regulation — GDPR. What looked like regulation against innovation now appears as desirable and useful,” he said.

He then indirectly called out Facebook for its half-baked GDPR changes. “Some of you, and I believe it’s the case of Microsoft, decided to enforce GDPR everywhere. And I encourage everyone to do the same.”

The fact that 50 CEOs came to Paris is interesting by itself. It’s a sign that tech companies want to have an open discussion with governments. They want to make sure that regulation is favorable. On the other end, governments want to make sure that tech innovations aren’t going to divide society.

But it’s just starting.

Some companies announced a few things in Paris. Uber expanded its accident insurance to contractors across Europe, when they’re working and also when they’re not on the road. IBM plans to hire 1,800 people in France. Deliveroo is going to invest $117 million (€100 million) over the next few years.

Let’s see if Macron has more to say tomorrow.

Here’s the full list of tech CEOs in Paris for the Tech for Good Summit:

  • Kevin Sneader, CEO, Mckinsey
  • Audrey Azoulay, Director, UNESCO
  • Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO, Facebook
  • John Kerry, Senior Fellow, Carnegie Foundation
  • Satya Nadella , CEO, Microsoft
  • Pierre Louette, CEO, Les Echos
  • Tony Elumelu, President, United Bank for Africa
  • Maurice Lévy, Co-Founder, Viva Technology
  • Charlotte Hogg, CEO, Europe Visa
  • Jean-Paul Agon, CEO, L’Oréal
  • Tristan Harris, Executive Director, Center for Human technology
  • Alexandre Dayon, CEO, Salesforce
  • Brian Krzanich, CEO, Intel
  • Mitchell Baker, President, Mozilla Foundation
  • Yves Meignié, CEO, Vinci Energies
  • Gilles Pelisson, CEO, TF1
  • Bill McDermott, CEO, SAP
  • Young Sohn, CEO, Samsung
  • Gillian Tans, CEO,
  • Niklas Zennstrom, Founder and CEO, Atomico
  • Will Shu, CEO, Deliveroo
  • Sunil Bharti Mittal, President, Bharti enterprises
  • Joe Schoendorf, Partner, Accel
  • Nick Bostrom, Director, Future of Humanity Institute
  • Julie Ranty, Director, VivaTech
  • Eric Leandri, CEO, Qwant
  • Olivier Brandicourt, CEO, Sanofi
  • Mo Ibrahim, President, Mo Ibrahim Foundation
  • Yossi Vardi, Entrepreneur
  • Philippe Wahl, CEO, Groupe La Poste
  • Pierre Nanterme, CEO, Accenture
  • Tom Enders, CEO, Airbus
  • Tim Hwang, Director, Harvard-MIT Ethics & Governance of AI Initiative
  • Octave Klaba, Founder and CEO, OVH
  • Ginni Rometty, CEO, IBM
  • Pierre Dubuc, CEO, OpenClassrooms
  • Isabelle Kocher, CEO, Engie
  • Sy Lau, CEO, Tencent
  • Xavier Niel, Founder, Iliad/Free
  • Jimmy Wales, Founder, Wikimedia Foundation
  • Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, CEO, BNP Paribas
  • Angela Ahrendts, Vice President Retail, Apple
  • Frédéric Mazella, Co-Founder and President, BlaBlaCar
  • Stewart Butterfield, CEO, Slack
  • Alex Karp, CEO, Palantir
  • Guillaume Pepy, CEO, SNCF
  • Jacquelline Fuller, President,
  • Stéphane Richard, CEO, Orange
  • Clare Akamanzi, CEO, Rwanda Development Board
  • Paul Hermelin, CEO, CapGemini
  • Eric Hazan, Senior Partner, McKinsey
  • Ludovic Le Moan, Co-Founder and CEO, Sigfox
  • Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO, Uber
  • Catherine Guillouard, CEO, RATP
  • Tim Collins, CEO, Ripplewood
  • Bernard Liautaud, Partner, Balderton
  • Alain Roumilhac, CEO, Manpower Group France
  • Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO, Rakuten
  • John Collison, Co-Founder and CEO, Stripe
  • Maxime Baffert, Director, VivaTech
  • Thomas Buberl, CEO, Axa